Labor bureau investigates signature-gathering firm

(AP) ?” The state Bureau of Labor and Industries is investigating possible violations of state wage and hour laws by a firm that is gathering signatures for several initiative measures aimed at the November ballot.

Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner said his agency is looking into allegations that B&P Campaign Management Inc. may have failed to pay signature gatherers the hourly rate they were promised resulting, in some cases, in gatherers earning less than the required state minimum wage.

In addition, Gardner said, the bureau is investigating whether the business kept required records of hours worked and wages paid to the signature gatherers.

"The political season is in full swing and the signature gatherers for many ballot measures have hit the streets," Gardner said. "During this time, I want both the signature gatherers and the firms that employ them to remember that they need to obey the laws of this state."

Last month, a complaint was filed with the state Elections Division by three former workers alleging that B&P has been paying petition gatherers by the signature rather than by the hour, as required by law.

A spokesman for the Portland-based company later denied that was the case, saying the allegations were made by "disgruntled" workers.

Gardner said if the company is found to be in violation of state employment laws, it could be required to pay any unpaid wages the bureau determines to be due.

Moreover, the firm could face penalties, including the payment of penalty wages equal to up to 30 days worth of wages per employee.

B&P is working on four initiatives for the fall ballot, including ones to bar government from condemning private property for use by a private developer and to allow taxpayers to claim personal income tax deductions for exemptions claimed on federal returns.

The others would require judges to be elected on a district level, instead of statewide, and prohibit insurance companies from using personal credit scores in calculating rates or premiums.